This is crucial in wearable technology because poor power management translates into battery drain. Sure, one can always select a nice, compact battery, but how long will the device run under typical use conditions?
Characterizing a usage profile is a non-trivial design activity. The Apple Watch is only expected to operate for two to five hours in actual use. What happens over an entire waking day of 16 hours? Ideally, one does not want to take off a watch during the day to charge it (unless a person works night shifts). Using Google Glass for video will kill the battery in an hour. It remains to be seen if such limitations restrict widespread, long-term adoption of consumer wearable technology.
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Battery life has a direct impact on a product’s real usefulness. The challenge is balancing battery capacity and size with efficient power management (i.e., low-power modes, efficient consumption design, etc.) and a realistic usage profile. It can be quite tempting to make assumptions about usage profiles that would lead a designer to believe that a lower-capacity battery will do the job. These trade-offs should be made with a mind toward practical utility (i.e., value) to the user.
This has some relation, obviously, to power management. Realize that all electronic devices get warm (or hot). The harder you work them, the hotter they get. While the risk of an actual burn may be remote, heat can make a device very uncomfortable to wear. This is one of the observed issues with Google Glass.
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The more use you want to get out of a wearable device, the more heat dissipation is an issue. The designer needs to consider how heat will be managed, from both energy consumption and comfort viewpoints.
Overall, wearable tech devices are here to stay. Products like those from Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, and others have established a solid foothold and use cases in sports-related applications. Others will follow.
It is suggested that one views the current crop of watches and head-mounted gadgets (even from respected companies like Apple) as evolutionary steps. Products with the right combination of ergonomics and useful features will evolve over time. While the current crop of products is quite interesting, for some real excitement, watch out for what will be possible in the coming years.
Mitch Maiman is the president and co-founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), building on a vision of delivering a new model for software and hardware product development that integrates the full spectrum of design and engineering disciplines as a single-source solution.
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